Online climbing gear: are you buying safe equipment?

Posted by Daniel Middleton on 27/05/2022
Don't put your life on the line when it comes to gear. Photo: Alex Messenger

It's become common to shop online rather than take time out from our busy lives to physically visit a shop. The convenience, range of choice, and often better prices, make buying online incredibly attractive. But don't be caught out: there are some nasty surprises awaiting the unwary!

Shopping online is often the easiest way to buy gear, and it's safe if you shop through a well-known and established retailer. Of course, if fit is critical to performance it can be wiser to shop in person. But many retailers now offer hassle-free returns, making purchasing such items a much more viable option.

The real lottery begins when you start using general online sales sites, such as eBay and Amazon. Among the genuine and legitimate sellers are some very dubious ones. All sorts of things can turn up on these sites, some of which we'll detail to help you avoid being caught out.

WATCH: BMC's technical officer Dan Middleton talk about fake gear on the BBC

What to check first

First, make sure there is a brand name marked on the product. This is a requirement for any legitimate and correctly certified safety product. This allows users to help trace and identify their equipment in the event of a product issue or recall. More on this here:

https://www.thebmc.co.uk/guidance-on-gear-recalls-and-safety-warnings

Check it is certified

Unfortunately the internet is awash with non-certified products. These are any kind of product that does not have the certification or standards which would apply if they were sold in the UK. The product might actually work and may even be of reasonable quality, but the buyer has no way of knowing this and there is unlikely to be a robust recall and warning process in place in the eveny of any issues.

Uncertified products may be unbranded but may also have a brand name marked on them. It's worth checking to see if the brand is an established manufacturer or not.

Next, look for the markings and instructions which a certified product must have on them.

Brand name, CE mark and batch number on a DMM Wallnut

The certified product above is a DMM Wallnut. It is marked with the manufacturer's name, a CE mark to show it has CEN certification, and the highighted batch code which helps with traceability. 0120 is the number for the Notified Body who indepentently certified the product.

You may also see a UIAA Safety Label on some products. The BMC is an active member of the UIAA Safety Commission, more info about the UIAA Safety Label is found here:

https://www.theuiaa.org/safety/uiaa-safety-label/

Is the certification legitimate?

A final word of warning before we show some examples of what to avoid. Products have started to appear for sale which have fake certification. Some giveaways that they are fake:

  • No brand name
  • Missing or incorrect markings on the product
  • Missing or incorrect information on the labels attached to the product

Examples of incorrect markings include: the wrong EN standard for the product type; a notified body number for a body which does not certify that product class.

The attached label must contain information on correct usage, lifetime and more. An example of what you should expect can be found here:

Petzl User Instructions for Attache Carabiner

If you follow this guidance you should end up with a legitimate product, and avoid the horror stories below!

The folding crampon

Non-certified and incredibly dangerous crampons that were bought online.

One buyer received an unpleasant shock, which could have ended up being fatal. The crampons they'd recently bought simply folded up and collapsed while out winter walking, becoming useless and dangerous. They were fortunate not to have to call out the Mountain Rescue team, or worse.

The weakest link


A non-certified rope that is not strong enough to catch almost any lead fall.

This rope was found online for sale as a climbing rope. When tested, it was about as strong as a certified 4mm accessory cord, and using it for holding a climbing fall could likely result in a fatal fall or serious injury

Counterfeit products

Counterfeit products are rare but do occasionally show up. As you'd expect, these are a serious case of fraud where a rogue manufacturer blatantly tries to pass a product off as something it isn't. These can be hard to spot even by an expert and manufacturers rely on consumers reporting anything which they have purchased which seems suspect. Things to look out for are price offers which seem too good to be true, or poor quality products from a usually good manufacturer.


These fake copies of Petzl crampons were found for sale online.

Second-hand products

Unlike the previous examples, second hand sales are usually made by individuals rather than a business. Most items are sold in good faith, but the buyer must take into account the risks in buying critical safety equipment from a stranger. You take a risk buying items with an unknown history, and there also is the possibility that the goods have been stolen.

If buying second hand, it's best to stick to buying unused items still in their packaging. The next least risky are items which can be readily checked for their safety (if you know what you're doing) such as carabiners. It's much trickier to check textile items which can be affected more by aging and storage conditions, so it's best to avoid these completely.


This second hand helmet was sold with the buyer being informed that it was damaged but that this probably wouldn't affect the safety of the product. Our experience tells us otherwise.

Happy shopping!

Now you know the potential pitfalls, you should be able to shop online with more confidence and vet the sellers accordingly. If you're ever unsure, it's best to err on the side of caution.


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Anonymous User
21/02/2017
I have purchased a Mammut Nautical Child's Harness from Amazon. Without opening the pack I can't see any CE marks. Do you think this is a safe product for my grandson?
Daniel Middleton(author comment)
22/02/2017
Hi, Mammut make a child's sit harness called an Ophir Kid's, which is certified to EN12277 typeC. I think Nautica is the colour? Details of the certification should be included in the instructions and on the harness, you'll probably have to open the packaging to check.

The only way to be certain it isn't counterfeit is by buying from a reputable vendor - remember Amazon is the portal, you're probably not buying from them but someone else. Who are they, do they specialise in climbing gear, have they got a bricks and mortar shop in the UK?

Finally, whether this type of harness is suitable for a child depends on their age and development. You can find out more about harnesses here: https://www.thebmc.co.uk/harness-guide-for-climbers-and-mountaineers
02/03/2017
Wouldn't buy any "life or death" kit online. Rucksack clothing maybe a different issue but again there is plenty available relatively cheaply from company '2nds' sites if price is an issue. I treat every wire, nut, crab etc as a life insurance policy. Don't scrimp on it..... That is all!

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